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Wayne Brady Reveals the Key to Unlocking Your Child's Imagination

Actor and comedic superstar Wayne Brady spoke with Parents about the lessons kids can learn from improv, what it's like to watch his daughter grow up, and how he teaches her to be true to herself.

Wayne Brady and daughter Mailee Diane Bondareff/AP Images for Charmin
Do you remember when your kid told his first knock-knock joke? I bet he couldn't stop giggling. A sense of humor is a key part of growing up—not to mention fun for you. That's why actor and comedic superstar Wayne Brady teamed up with Charmin for their recent Keeping It Clean comedy competition, encouraging kids to be funny, but not filthy. To kick off the show, Brady performed with his 12-year-old daughter, Mailee, before chatting with Parents about the lessons kids can learn from improv, what it's like to watch his daughter grow up, and how he teaches her to be true to herself.

P: It was so fun to watch you onstage interacting with these kids. Is that what drew you to the event?
WB: Watching kids create, I could do that all day. It's very cool. Because I remember when I was a kid, younger than them, when I was younger than my daughter's age, I always had that thing of making stuff up just for myself and creating these worlds. Not trying to be funny for anybody really just reading these books and going Oooh I can make this stuff up.

P: We often hear of kids getting involved with dance or musical theater—which are great—but a little less so about kids doing improv and comedy at a young age. What are some of the benefits of these artforms for young children?
WB: Improvisation, not to sound all Actors Studio, is its own lane. It's a way of thinking; it's a modality. My teacher, Claire—who is now a big screenwriter—she taught me to think in the manner of "What's the world that you're setting up?" immediately, "What's the person you're being?" I take that stuff with me into my acting. It really is a tool to unlock your imagination.

P: It seems like Mailee is into comedy like her dad.
WB: This was definitely a very cool thing for me to be onstage with my little one. She's watched me since she was a baby and to see her know to take certain beats and to see the wheels moving in her head. I tell people all the time, I think adults are the ones faking it. When you're a kid that's when you're the most in touch with that [creativity] muscle.

P: Now that she is a bit older and she's using her mind in a more mature way, how has her daddy-daughter relationship evolved?
WB: I have to watch what I say. Her mom has to watch what she says. We have to watch what we say. I'm learning to respect her and give her space. Even recently, I have to look at her and say, "You are becoming a person." You're not my little baby that I can just say or do whatever and expect you to comply immediately. I can ask for respect and give her guidelines and parent her that way, but I see that she is coming into her own and I've got to be cool with that.

P: Speaking of coming into her own, you're about to start your run in Kinky Boots on Broadway, which is a show all about being true to yourself and accepting others. How do you encourage your daughter to do those things?
WB: The good news is, she's grown up with those lessons because of her mother and myself and the people that we consider our family. Both of her godparents are men that are in marriages with other men. Most of the people in her sphere, she sees people who walk that walk every single day of their lives. So we've never had to preach "Folks should be accepted." She sees that those are the people that we love and we give love to and they give love to us.

P: What's the best parenting advice you've ever received?
WB: Show up. That's the best advice.

P: What has been your favorite family summer memory?
WB: Coming to New York a couple weeks ago, her, her mom, and myself. Her mother and I, we are business partners and we work together and we are best friends but we are divorced. So we are like the new modern family in the sense of a dynamic. Being able to take a family trip all of us and being able to do these things...we had an amazing time here. We saw Hamilton and ate hamburgers out in the park and walked in Central Park. Just beautiful memories.

Ruthie Fierberg is an editorial assistant at Parents. Though she does not have children of her own, she's practically been raising kids since her first babysitting job at age 11. She is also our resident theater aficionado and has interviewed over 40 celeb parents. Follow her on Twitter @RuthiesATrain.

There Is Nothing Funnier Than A Kid Telling A Joke